Three years in making, plan links people to parks

A county-wide bike and pedestrian plan, People 2 Parks, is expected to be completed by the end of September, after nearly three years of study, mapping and input.

Among the many assets of living in the Lowcountry is its growing number of parks, including those created and operated by the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.

In recent years, the commission has not rested on its laurels by just maintaining what it has. It has added to its parks and saved valuable green space such as McLeod and Laurel Hill plantations as well as stepped up with the innovative Move IT! wellness programming.

Now the commission is asking you to help them connect people to their parks, as well as schools, homes and work, via foot and bicycle.

For nearly three years, commission staffers have been working with local governments, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, state transportation department and the nonprofit Charleston Moves to create the “People to Parks Plan,” or P2P.

The plan now is entering its final phase and the commission is asking locals to submit input via an online questionnaire and web-based, “Wikimapping” survey to help the commission prioritize routes.

Friday is the deadline to take the survey, which is at www.surveymonkey.com/r/people2parks.

The commission has been working diligently on the plan because, as the county’s park and recreation authority, it has a “keen perspective” on recreational challenges facing the area, according to Matthew Moldenhauer, PRC’s land resource manager.

“One (challenge) that we are acutely aware of is the issue of equitable park and recreation access. Making access equitable means making it easy for people of all abilities and backgrounds — and all modes of transportation — to utilize parks and recreation opportunities,” says Moldenhauer.

“(The commission) owns and operates facilities in some of the most rural and urbanized parts of the county. In some cases, getting to parks is just as challenging for residents in populated areas as it is for rural residents.”

Moldenhauer stresses that the plan seeks to connect people to all the parks, not just the ones operated by the commission. That’s why it has worked closely with the municipalities in the county on the plan.

After getting public feedback, Moldenhauer says the commission will create a map of proposed bike and pedestrian connections, which will be prioritized based on gaps in the existing infrastructure, population need, proximity to schools and the overarching criteria: park connectivity.

He adds the public feedback also will benefit Berkeley and Dorchester counties because information will be transferred to the council of governments for planning purposes.

A web-based mapping survey was used earlier this year by Charleston Moves to help determine common or desired bike routes in downtown Charleston in a plan called “People Pedal Charleston.”

Tom Bradford, the president of Charleston Moves, has been working with the commission on the People to Parks plan from the get-go and says its findings will be complementary to that of People Pedal, as well as its efforts in creating the 32-mile Battery2Beach route from Isle of Palms to Folly Beach via downtown Charleston’s Battery.

Bradford says the planning has taken a few years because the on-the-ground research, Geographic Information System mapping and the involvement of the municipalities, but that the resulting plan will be worth the wait.

“People are really hungry for this stuff,” says Bradford, referring to bike and pedestrian facilities.

As of late last week, the commission has received 600 survey responses and is hoping to get 2,000 responses by Friday. Early findings show that respondents say the top three “obstacles” to safe walking and biking in the area are traffic, the lack of bike and pedestrian facilities and motorists not exercising caution.

Just like People Pedal, some expressed frustration when drawing routes online, which involves clicking and dragging on a map of the county.

Moldenhauer says that if users have difficulty with the map, the survey offers a place to write in concerns or that they can email him directly at mmoldenhauer@ccprc.com

Those who have been patiently waiting for more bike and pedestrian infrastructure in the Charleston area are getting frustrated with the lack of action.

For example, the city of Charleston spent $75,000 two years ago on a plan to re-open, legally, the James Island Connector to bikes and pedestrians. What’s happened? Nothing.

Moldenhauer says the commission’s plan will fit a long-term “vision” for regional transportation improvements.

“However, until the funding to achieve that vision is in place, there are smaller interim funding sources available via Charleston County, the COG and SCDOT. Nothing will happen overnight, but this plan will serve as the main ‘road map’ for bike and pedestrian improvements at the countywide scale, helping to make sure we capitalize on any available opportunities, even if it’s one piece at a time.”

In some instances, Moldenhauer says re-striping of roads may be an appropriate solution.

“Although it is true that (the commission) built the first bike lanes in Charleston County (Needlerush Parkway to Palmetto Islands County Park), we will not be building the improvements proposed in this plan,” he says.

“That will fall to the county, SCDOT and others. I can, however, assure you that this plan will not just be collecting dust on a shelf, since our partners have direct involvement. This plan will propose the preferred routing for specified improvements, but it will be up to the implementers to take measurements and run detailed costs analyses.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.